Our City: Transfers and Loyalty in Modern Football



Our City is a weekly column from a supporter’s perspective of Major League Soccer, Orlando City, and American Soccer in general.

For club loyalists, transfers can be a challenging moment of fandom. Negotiations and deals made in shuttered club boardrooms or on secured phone lines mix with hearsay and rumor to create nuanced and complicated narratives. Once the ever-eager media have a shot at reporting whatever details they may or may not be able to confirm, the drama begins to ensue. 

As a supporter, you imagine a player will hold the club you love so much in the same high regard. With a tint of false nostalgia, and self-blind to the reality of the modern sports-entertainment landscape, we assume a player is as eager to play as we are to support. When a player kisses a badge, applauds the support, or shows any other expression of loyalty they are rewarded with praise from the stands. If a player makes any suggestion that he’s just a paid worker in a career with a very limited time frame and that the team you love so much might not be the best fit for them, you begin to question if they ever cared at all. 

While I’m speaking broadly, I’m actually just talking about myself, about my perception. Somewhere, somehow, some sense of false nostalgia has been implanted into my thinking. Maybe it’s a boyhood affection for Ryan Giggs, the loyal servant for Manchester United who played his entire career at the club, all 672 games of it. While at the same time I harbored some misguided resentment towards David Beckham for switching clubs in his prime.

Combined with my penchant for nostalgia was a healthy respect for loyalty. I’ve always found it among the most admirable of qualities. While I generally apply this to how I make and keep my friends, it trickled into my sports allegiances. I’m among that crowd in Orlando who won’t ever forgive Shaquille O’Neal for leaving the Orlando Magic when he did. At the same time, no player has ever eclipsed Nick Anderson as my favorite, due mostly to his 10 seasons playing for the Magic. In my young mind, Ryan Giggs loved Manchester United and Nick Anderson loved the Magic as much as I did. 

I didn’t understand as a kid that these two players made critically important decisions that were best for their lives, their families, and their careers. Coincidentally, those decisions aligned with my loyalties. I don’t mean to question the loyalty or decision making of either player, both have been loyal servants to their respective teams, but both could have just as easily made other decisions. 

Above I applied the term “false nostalgia” to my view of how sports should be. Of course, all nostalgia is at least a little false. In this case, I’ve always imagined a time long past when players played for their local team and never chased a bigger paycheck or larger stage. A pre-sports entertainment world where allegiance meant something. Except that never really existed. 

Consider the top scoring player in American soccer history, Archie Stark, the Scottish-American who scored 253 goals in 10 seasons, mostly with the legendary Bethlehem Steel between 1921-1930. Except he played with the Kearny Scots, Babcock & Wilcox, New York Field Club, Newark Americans, and Kearny Irish, among others. In a career that spanned 22 years, he played for at least 10 clubs.

Second place on the scoring sheet is John Nelson, another Scottish-American who played mainly for Brooklyn Wanderers in the 1920s. He amassed 223 goals over 250 games with six clubs. Third on the list, playing in a more modern era was the forever prickly Giorgio Chinaglia. The Italian was an icon in his eight seasons with the superstar-laden New York Cosmos. He found the net 193 times during his time in America, but also had a long prolific career with Lazio, where he played 209 games.

It would seem from this small sample size of the most prolific goal scorers in American history that great players have always moved to look for ways to better their careers and loyalty only works for a player when it aligns with what is best for them as well. 

As a supporter, you always hope a player can find that place of comfort and success at your club. For a young club like Orlando City, this period of massive transition has erased a number of “faces of the franchises” off the books with Kevin Molino, Kaká, and now, most likely, Cyle Larin. While Dom Dwyer looks prone to take the mantle, I can’t help but think its one reason so many fans were eager to keep Pierre Da Silva, and were disappointed to see Tommy Redding move with the Sacha Kljestan trade. And why we hope Dom Dwyer takes on the role with his move from Sporting Kansas City.

Any supporter of any club wants their beloved team to be the place where great players can create moments to remember and enduring legends that you in turn can say you witnessed. We just have to be honest and remember that nearly every club legend is just another team's former player.  


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